Fixed mortgage rates edge lower

Fixed 30-year mortgage interest rates edged down but stayed above 5% for the fourth straight week, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

The government-controlled buyer and guarantor of home loans said 30-year fixed-rate mortgages were averaging 5.06% this week. That was down from 5.09% last week and up from 4.96% a year ago. Upfront lender fees averaged 0.7% of the loan amount.

The average interest rate for a 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular option for people refinancing loans to pay them off sooner, averaged 4.45% this week with 0.6% in lender fees, down from 4.5% last week and 4.65% a year ago.

The typical rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell below 5% in November and stayed there for six weeks, triggering a wave of homeowners refinancing their mortgages. Refinancings continue to outnumber home-purchase loans by 3 to 1, Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft said.

Predicting that interest rates would rise later this year, the Mortgage Bankers Assn. said in a report this week that it expected total mortgage originations to decline to $1.28 trillion this year from $2.11 trillion in 2009 as refinancing drops off.